LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

County officials demand to know where 911 fees are going

Dispatchers answer calls at the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office and divert patrol cars and first responders as quickly as the calls come in. But law enforcement agents say our county and state 911 response systems severely lag the rest of the country because state government has been quietly raiding the fund intended to keep emergency systems upgraded for years.

“Everyone pays 90 cents on their 911 phone bill, every single person that has phone service, regardless of carrier, 90 cents. None of that money has made its way to our 911 center here in Monmouth County, nor to the other 192 PSAPs, public safety answering points, other 911 centers around the state of New Jersey,” said Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden.

Look at any phone bill, landline or wireless, and you’ll find the 90 cent fee tacked on among the rest of the surcharges and taxes.

As budget negotiations struggle in Trenton, local law enforcement gathered outside the dispatch center in Freehold, calling on Gov. Phil Murphy to end a decade-long practice diverting the funds to general coffers.

This year alone the fees are expected to generate more than $134 million statewide. That goes to a trust fund to help upgrade local, statewide and county 911 centers like Monmouth County’s. The sheriff says they haven’t seen a dime since 2011.

“The state has collected approximately $1.3 billion in fees since 2006 with only 11 percent of that fund money being spent on eligible expenses,” said Lillian Burry, Monmouth County freeholder deputy director.

What’s worse, they say, is legislators are looking to hike that fee up to 99 cents each bill cycle, along with an additional fee for prepaid customers. The bill says the fund is to equip PSAPs with what’s called Next Gen 911 systems so you can send photos or videos directly with your emergency call and have pinpoint accuracy on your location. But law enforcement leaders doubt they’ll ever see that money.

“We are using technology for 911 that was the old, dial-up modems to figure out people’s location,” Golden said. “Meanwhile you can find your son or daughter or family member on find my iPhone instantly.”

According to an FCC report, New Jersey is one of just six states to use 911-related public safety funds for non-related programs. The Attorney General’s Office did not provide comment, but did confirm the funds are allocated to programs in Law and Public Safety, Military and Veterans’ Affairs and the Treasury Department.